At Paul Simon's second and final show at Forest Hills Stadium Friday night, in the borough where he grew up, some of the biggest cheers greeted any and all references to water. "She said, 'A good day ain't got no rain'" (from "Slip Slidin' Away") and "I know It's raining but we're coming to the end" (from "The Werewolf," off his current Stranger to Stranger) brought on as many cheers as the opening chords to "You Can Call Me Al" or "The Sound of Silence."
The show was the last U.S. performance of Simon's current tour supporting Stranger to Stranger, and in an interview published a few days before, he hinted at a possible retirement from show biz. If his roadwork is gradually coming to an end, Simon couldn't have picked a more dramatic finale: A relentless downpour, combined with a tornado warning earlier in the day, delayed the outdoor-venue show by an hour and 20 minutes. No wonder the soaked-through audience was happy to hear any mention of precipitation in song; at least the show wasn't cancelled or postponed.
Along with a small group of peers that includes Bob Dylan and Paul McCartney, Simon is exploring uncharted territory in rock & roll—writing and recording new material well into one's 70s. (Their predecessors, like Chuck Berry, are still with us but haven't unleashed new songs in decades.) Simon's two-hour-plus show included many of the hits one expected, from a rare "Homeward Bound," "Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard" and "Still Crazy After All These Years" through a few songs each from his last two albums.
But it's a sign of Simon's ongoing vitality as a writer than choices in the latter category—"Dazzling Blue" from 2011's So Beautiful or So What and the rubbery, whimsical "Wristband" and the moody title song from Stranger to Stranger—were among the night's most indelible moments.
As the show also demonstrated, Simon, alone among his contemporaries, remains both methodical and playful, eager to tinker with old arrangements and rhythms to keep himself and his audience still interested. On a stage that resembled a traveling musical instrument store—horns, guitars, and any number of exotic percussion instruments were everywhere—Simon, backed by nine musicians, walked the line between nostalgia and make-over.
He stretched out vocal syllables in "The Boy in the Bubble"; longtime guitarist Vincent Nguini added stones-skipping-on-water lead lines to the intro of "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover." Once steeped in reggae, "Mother and Child Reunion" ended with a shot of Tijuana horns. (And speaking of old times, no, Art Garfunkel didn't join him, despite the historic return to their home-borough venue for the first time since Simon and Garfunkel played there in 1970.)
Whether the show remains Simon's last in the States isn't at all certain; a source in his camp doesn't think that's the case, and he's scheduled to play European shows in October. At the official end of the set, Simon basked in the audience's cheers for what felt like longer than usual, but throughout the night he made no reference to closure and rarely seemed like someone eager to hang it up. If anything, a few dance moves in "That Was Your Mother" revealed that Simon, 74 and still sporting a muscular torso, seems to enjoy performing as much as he ever has.
When the concert had belatedly begun, Simon had told the crowd he'd try to slip in a few extra songs to compensate for the delay. For the very last encore, he did just that. "I don't usually sing this song, but, well, we'll see," he shrugged as keyboardist Mick Rossi began the introductory passage to "Bridge Over Troubled Water."
Early in the night, Simon's voice sounded a little husky, but it loosened up as the night went on, and by the time he started singing his former partner's signature solo, Simon seemed up for the challenge. He sang it a register (or two) down from Garfunkel's, but he hit enough of the notes to count, even reaching for the climatic finale as much as he could. The audience roared at yet another reference to liquid—but, this time, not in defiance but out of appreciation.
"The Boy in the Bubble"
"50 Ways to Leave Your Lover"
"That Was Your Mother"
"Honky Tonk" (cover of Bill Doggett 1956 instrumental)
"Slip Slidin' Away"
"The Obvious Child"
"Stranger to Stranger"
"El Condor Pasa" (instrumental)
"The Cool, Cool River"
"Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes"
"You Can Call Me Al"
"I Know What I Know"
"Still Crazy After All These Years"
"Late in the Evening"
"That's All Right" (Arthur Crudup/Elvis Presley cover)
"The Sound of Silence"
"Bridge Over Troubled Water"